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Nesta funds investigations into how ‘collective intelligence’ could change democracy, humanitarian responses and more

Nesta is providing £250,000 to fund 12 experiments that bring together the best of artificial intelligence and other technologies with “the wisdom of crowds to make something that is better than either on its own”.

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Nesta is providing £250,000 to fund 12 experiments that bring together the best of artificial intelligence and other technologies with “the wisdom of crowds" to make something that is better than either on its own.

 

The grants of up to £20,000 will fund investigations into what is known as ‘collective intelligence’ – the combination of human and machine knowledge to solve challenges.

 

As examples of how this could be used, Nesta cites ideas from prosecuting possible war criminals to enabling citizens to participate in policy-making and tackling humanitarian crises following natural disasters.

 

Among the projects funded are experiments from the Alan Turing Institute in the UK and CitizenLab in Belgium to test how machine-learning can be used to group unstructured human discussions online into meaningful policy proposals. This could help people use digital democracy platforms to greater effect and increase the uptake of public ideas by policymakers.

 

This work could help people use digital democracy platforms to greater effect and increase the uptake of public ideas by policymakers.

Inspired by nature

 

Similarly, San Francisco-based Unanimous AI will test whether algorithms modelled on the swarm behaviour of bees and fish can help find consensus among conflicting groups.

 

These new forms of decision-making could one day replace our traditional forms of voting, and aid the search for solutions to divisive debates like Brexit, Nesta says.

 

Other projects will look at conflict and natural disaster, with researchers at Swansea University using collective intelligence to process citizen-generated footage of airstrikes for use in court, and others at the University of Southampton will look at ways to sustain crowdsourced analysis of drone images in the aftermath of humanitarian emergencies when initial interest has passed.

 

These new forms of decision-making could one day replace our traditional forms of voting, and aid the search for solutions to divisive debates like Brexit, Nesta says.

 

The projects will receive up to £20,000 to run their experiments over the coming year and Nesta hopes that they reveal some of the breadth of potential uses for this emerging technique.

 

The wisdom of crowds

 

Kathy Peach, Head of Nesta’s Centre of Collective Intelligence Design, said: “If correctly orchestrated the wisdom of crowds can do things that no individual, even an expert could do, and in recent years we’ve also begun to see the incredible power of AI and other digital technologies.

 

"By bringing together the power of machines to help us analyse, predict and learn, with the tacit knowledge of crowds we can mobilise collective intelligence at scale.

 

“Making progress in how we understand, think and act together is critical to solving some of the most complex challenges of our times – from climate change to prosperity and wellbeing. As the experiments funded by these grants show, collective intelligence design has huge potential for societal benefits. If a tiny percentage of the resources dedicated to artificial intelligence were redirected to this emerging field it could radically improve our democracies, bring human rights abusers to justice, strengthen disaster relief and help us to overcome our differences.”

 

Professor Yvonne McDermott Rees of Swansea University, whose experiment to process crowd-sourced images of airstrikes is a collaboration with two NGOs, GLAN Law and Syrian Archive, commented: “Technological advances have heralded a new era of human rights investigations, where witnesses can capture and share media of human rights violations in real time.

 

“However, getting that evidence into court processes is challenging, not least because of the huge volumes of content that lawyers have to sift through. Our experiment will ask whether a collective intelligence approach can combine human expertise with machine learning to identify and manage evidence that can be used in accountability processes.”

 

The full list of grant winners is:

  • Unanimous AI, a technology company based in San Francisco, will test whether algorithms modelled on ‘swarm’ behaviour in bees and fish can enable groups with conflicting political views to find collectively acceptable solutions.
  • fanSHEN, a Newcastle-based theatre company, will investigate the importance of empathy and metacognition skills for group decision-making and will test how such social skills can be fostered through immersive storytelling.
  • ISTC-CNR, the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, will test whether machine intelligence can mitigate the bias of social influence in collective decision-making.
  • The Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel will look into whether introducing artificial ‘agents’ will change people’s behaviour in discussions about collective risks, such as climate change.
  • The Alan Turing Institute will test whether natural language processing is a useful technique to cluster similar proposals from ‘like-minded citizens’ on a digital democracy platform so that citizens on the platform with shared interests can work together more effectively.
  • HURIDOCS, a human rights organisation based in Switzerland, will look into whether machine learning can increase the efficiency of human rights defenders in curating large collections of documents.
  • Belgium-based company CitizenLab will use machine learning technologies to translate unstructured citizen-generated ideas and insights on digital democracy platforms into actionable policy recommendations for public authorities.
  • Swansea University will test whether a collective intelligence approach to processing crowdsourced footage of airstrike images increases the uptake of such open-source digital evidence by legal practitioners in court.
  • The University of Southampton will test different strategies to sustain crowd engagement in emergency response activities (such as coordinating recovery efforts) beyond the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
  • The University of Edinburgh will compare two types of intelligent recommendation algorithms on a citizen science platform to make it easier for citizen scientists to discover the projects that best match their interests and capabilities.
  • The Hong Kong Baptist University will test whether using a crowdsourcing platform can support the coordination of food rescue activities by volunteers in Hong Kong.
  • The Behavioural Insights Team aims to find out whether a collective intelligence approach can uncover the type of feedback from teachers that leads to the greatest improvement in students understanding and performance in maths tests.
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